During a season of exhaustion, Rebecca looks for the space and help that she needs to pray, and she finds them.
If Christ’s time walking the earth convinces me of anything, it’s that we don’t have to have our lives together to come and talk with him. I don’t have an infectious skin disease or a socially unacceptable job, but I do have a problem which seems to crop up any time I sit down to listen and talk to God.
I’m really tired.
Full-time teaching and mothering doesn’t leave much space for sleep. And, as the disciples discovered, praying when you’re sleepy is hard. I seem incapable of articulating a coherent request at 5:00am in our darkened living room, and my silent listening before the Father at bedtime works out about as well for me as it did for the disciples in the garden of Gethsemane.
Either I must be contented with a prayer life wholly consisting of hurriedly breathed prayers on the way into tense student meetings, or I must believe that there is a way for Christ to bear this burden too. I can’t wait until I am rested to have a relationship with God.
I must believe that there is a way for Christ to bear this burden too. I can't wait until I am rested to have a relationship with God.
I begin with the acknowledgement that I have a body, a body created by God to be finite. I have a body with limited resources. I have the same kind of body that Christ had, prior to his glorification. I consider this story early in John’s gospel:
‘Now he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.’
Jesus got tired too. This is just what happens when one goes on a long journey (or is a parent to a 4:00am party animal). It’s not a sin; it’s a fact of this mortal life. Freed from a misplaced guilt, I look to the practical considerations. If getting tired is normal, prayer must work with it. What can I do so that I don’t fall asleep while I’m praying?
Luke records that ‘crowds of people came to hear him [Jesus] and to be healed of their sicknesses. But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ Jesus didn’t necessarily pray in the midst of a noisy crowd. He withdrew. Our physical space matters; noise and quiet matter; movement and stillness matter. And so, I look at the different physical spaces and postures in my life: which are most conducive to staying awake?
My daily one mile walk between the train station and school immediately presents itself. I’m alone, I’m moving, and I’m alert. Here is my lonely place. Here is a space where I don’t have to fight with my body to listen and talk to God. Here is a time already carved out. Here is place to pray. I don’t have to close my eyes to talk to God, as I thought I had to as a child. I don’t have to have my ‘quiet time’ before breakfast, as I thought I had to as a teen. It turns out that God will still hear me if I talk to him at 8:00am on the side of road in Dunfermline, Scotland.
I’ve found a place to pray: my twenty minute walk to work in the morning. But even though I’m not in danger of falling asleep on my feet, my exhaustion still rears its head. Our brains need sleep too, and tiredness can make complete sentences difficult to form. Sleepiness—either as a metaphor for spiritual dullness or as a physical temptation—is oft warned against in the Scriptures. The Christian life demands alertness, both toward God and toward our own spiritual state. But this is not easy.
In Pilgrim’s Progress, as Christian and Hope enter an enchanted ground (of which they had been forewarned), Bunyan writes, ‘Now then, said Christian, to prevent drowsiness in this place, let us fall into good discourse.’
I find this advice to be incredibly helpful. First, it reminds me that I am not alone in the walking out of my spiritual life. Especially when I am tired, when my spiritual practices of praying and meditation seem stuck in a mental fog, this is vital to remember. Christianity isn’t meant to be practiced in isolation. Second, there is good discourse. How great is this? There is conversation; there is discussion; there are other people’s words. There is a way to focus my prayers and keep my senses alert.
As I walk and pray, I find unique ways to ‘fall into good discourse,’ to pray as a part of a larger community. Entering into Christ’s conversation with the disciples, I follow his instructions on prayer, meditating and expanding upon the Lord’s Prayer, grateful for the structure it provides. I consider the ‘prayers of the people’ from this past Sunday’s church service, echoing an elderly parishioner’s prayers for the world, for our nation and city, and for ourselves; she has been praying longer than I’ve been alive, and there is wisdom in her pleas. I pray lines from the psalms, from the prophets, from poetry, from the apostles, from the mothers and fathers of the Church.
I am not alone in the walking out of my spiritual life.
And as I discourse with Christians from throughout history and from around the world, I find that I’m less drowsy. It becomes easier to meditate on God without becoming distracted; I’m able to articulate the cries of my own heart through other’s words. Listening becomes more natural as I imitate those who’ve spent their lives listening to God.
I’m still tired. The practical facts of my life aren’t going to change anytime soon. But, Christ, in his wisdom and through his people, has lifted my burden. There is a place for me to pray. There is support when I am weary. There is help, that I may approach Christ to listen and to ask for mercy.
Rebecca Card-Hyatt is, by profession and vocation, a language arts teacher. Having taught at both private classical schools and inner-city public schools in California, she now teaches secondary English outside of Edinburgh, Scotland, continuing to help young people discuss critically, read carefully, and write clearly.
She loves to talk about running, contemporary fiction, educational philosophy, theology, and feminism with anyone who shows up to her dinner table.